Harim Peiris

Political and Reconciliation perspectives from Sri Lanka

  • February 2011
    M T W T F S S

Elections and Dialogue with the TNA

Posted by harimpeiris on February 17, 2011

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” (Shakespeare) and though President Rajapakse does not literarily wear a crown like Shakespeare’s Henry IV, the Rajapakse presidency further empowered by the 18th amendment to the constitution, certainly demonstrates to various degrees all the substantive features of an absolute monarchy, from the absence of any time limit on rule, the grooming of an eldest son as heir apparent, the role and function of a ruling family, an intolerance of dissent, a subservient judiciary, a cowed public service and a somewhat repressive security regime.

However there are some significant differences from an absolute monarchy and that is that Mahinda Rajapakse required being elected (2005) and re-elected (2010) at periodic intervals to demonstrate the consent of the governed and the legitimacy of his rule. Unfortunately Sri Lankan democracy has become so stunted that it has been reduced to periodic and deeply, though not fatally, flawed elections.


Economic Woes

However the Rajapakse regime must or should be having some cause for concern and disquiet about the state of political play. The most significant challenge is the rapid escalation of prices of essential goods and thereby hitting the general public in their economic well being. The President himself has stated the politically obvious that with the war over, there is no whipping boy to blame economic woes on. The impending fuel price hike after the local government elections will only greatly exacerbate matters.

With the capacity for recruitment into the security services and exhausted after reaching a near half million men and women in uniform including auxiliaries, reserves, para militaries and police, making Sri Lanka the most militarized state in South and South East Asia, there is the phenomenon of jobless growth or economic growth driven by foreign funded, foreign staffed and foreign constructed mega infrastructure projects that nonetheless have not dented the unemployment problem. The regime should in its self interest be hoping or working towards and no doubted aided by the floods and a deeply divided opposition UNP, for voter apathy and a low turnout at the local government polls. Otherwise it runs the risk of a demonstration of a significant drop in popular support. Anyway it would be difficult to defend its near record 70% public support garnered at the last general elections. But anything much less than 60% of the popular vote would create a swing of over 20% in favour of the opposition and create the impression of a trend against the government, which consequently weakens it.


Harder to find Enemies.

The other problem the Rajapakse regime faces is that it is a victim of its own success. Having so comprehensively defeated the LTTE, it needs a new political ideology than the barely concealed ethno nationalism it communicates as its rationale for existence. Now President Rajapakse realizes this and hoped for economic populism and prosperity. However two years on an insufficient number are likely feeling prosperous. When Prabakaran and the LTTE were around and fighting, it was easy to whip up domestic and international disgust and dislike against the LTTE and by extension to generate sympathy, with a state fighting this most ruthless of terror groups. However with the absence of the LTTE, whipping up majoritarian ethno nationalism against the Parliamentary TNA and its genial leader Sampanthan, a gentleman of the old school, is a much harder task for the regime and not a strategy that generates much support amongst moderate sections of the polity who are floating voters.


Marginalize the Diaspora Groups

There is of course then the rump LTTE represented in various Diaspora groups, defanged militarily but striving to take on the Sri Lankan State in the international legal and diplomacy arena. It is in that context that a deal with the TNA becomes crucial and in the interest of Sri Lanka and all Sri Lankans. For there is no better foil to an extreme Tamil Diaspora than a moderate and empowered Tamil domestic polity. Conversely if the TNA fails in its engagement with the government, the leadership of the Tamil community now resting predominantly with the TNA will shift, not to the regime’s in house ex-LTTErs of Karuna and KP but rather to the overseas Diaspora. The marginalization of the TNA’s predecessor, the TULF resulted in the Tamil leadership shifting to the LTTE with disastrous consequences for three deacdes. We owe it to ourselves to avoid a repletion of the same.


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